Omicron data gives some hope - but the time is not now for rhetoric - Scotsman leader comment

News that the Omicron variant is, so far, leading to a much-reduced rate of hospitalisation in the UK is most welcome.

People queue outside the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) to receive their booster vaccinations following the surge in Omicron cases. Data now suggests that the variant will lead to less severe illness. PIC: PA/Jane Barlow.
People queue outside the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) to receive their booster vaccinations following the surge in Omicron cases. Data now suggests that the variant will lead to less severe illness. PIC: PA/Jane Barlow.

With our Hogmanay plans in tatters, the hospitality industry in ever-deeper trouble and our stadiums empty again, goodness knows we needed some sort of lift.

Yet, amid the disappointment of another festive season ruined, with anger still bubbling over the Johnson administration's many transgressions during 2020's lockdowns, some will feel anger rather than cheer.

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It has become fashionable in some circles to say "Scotland has gone too far" in its reaction to the rapid spread of Omicron, and the latest positive message will only make those cries louder.

Yet our very reasonable disappointment, and anger, doesn't make Omicron any less threatening.

Any numerate observer, armed with the latest data on infections (Britain also topped 100,000 new cases a day yesterday, for the first time ever) and a middle case prediction of hospitalisations, can see that allowing the virus to rip through the population is unwise.

Critics also have short memories. Only in October, a House of Commons report - "Coronavirus: lessons learned to date" - concluded Britain's early handling of the coronavirus pandemic was one of our greatest-ever public health failures. Complacency and fatalism cost thousands of lives.

An early, and entirely deliberate, "slow and gradualist approach" to dealing with the virus squandered early opportunities, the report found. "It is now clear that this was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy. In a pandemic spreading rapidly and exponentially, every week counted".

Last week, the Conservative MPs voting against even mild measures to contain the new variant, claiming the data is not yet clear, failed to heed the lessons of that first wave.

And, similarly, the pundits and politicians saying Scotland has gone too far have done so, so far, without any idea of the most likely impact of Omicron will be.

In the days ahead, therefore, we should treat them with scepticism should they, later, attempt to tell us they knew all along.

And we should continue to remember that science, not rhetoric, will face this virus down.

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